Dear Freshman,

In case you haven’t noticed yet, college goes by fast. Today you’re a freshman, but one day you will wake up a senior and wonder how you got there so quickly. The days might move slow – especially if you are in the middle of midterms or a bout of homesickness – but trust me, the years go fast.

These four years are truly unique. This phase of life is wonderful, full of fun and independence and freedom. But it’s also hard; sometimes it feels tedious or stagnant or painful. It’s been both the most fun and the most challenging time I have ever experienced.

Having woken up a senior for the last four weeks, I have been reflecting on how I actually did get here, and on what college has taught me. Here are the pieces of senior wisdom I have come up with.

Number One: Be aware that every quarter (or semester) is totally different from the last. There are new classes, new routines, new sources of fun, new friends, new stresses, new challenges, and new lessons. It’s hard to readjust so often, but once you are aware that no quarter is ever the same, it keeps life interesting.

Number Two: Make an effort to learn about yourself. College is supposed to give you the skills that you need to go into the workforce; what I didn’t realize is that college actually prepares you to go into life. You learn how to exist in the world as a better, more developed human. The most valuable things that I have learned here have been about who I am and how I interact with the world. So push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Work on growing as an individual just as much as you work on studying (or partying).

Number Three: If you ever start to believe that you are done learning, you are almost certainly wrong. Prepare for life to show you just how much more room for growth you have.

Number Four: Embrace vulnerability. Let your teachers, friends, and peers get to know you (and get to know them too). Let them in on who you are, what you feel, and what you believe. Let people be a part of your journey; listen to and learn from them.

Number Five: Challenge yourself. Challenge who you are, what you believe, and what you are taught. Don’t abandon, but challenge. Learn to think critically about the things that you or society in general have accepted as True. Don’t be afraid to change your perspective.

Number Six: Enjoy the ride. College is fun, but some days are going to suck. You’re probably in for a few meltdowns, maybe some bad hangovers, and possibly a couple of all nighters. But it’s a crazy and beautiful journey, so find the joy in as much of it as you can.

When I look back on my time in college (though I’m not quite finished yet), I see the ways that it has changed and shaped me. I see the growth I have experienced, and the growth that I still have yet to experience. And I feel very grateful. I hope that in four years, you feel grateful too.


Two Quarters Left

“What do you want to do with your life?”

As a senior in high school, I remember getting tired of answering questions related to college. It seemed as though college was the only topic of conversation available to me and the rest of the world. But by March of that year, I had concrete answers to all of these questions. I had picked a school that I loved and was confident in my decision.

What I realize now, as a junior at Cal Poly, is that questions related to college were easy. They had concrete answers. The questions people ask about my future now are not so straightforward. The most common questions that I have to answer are: “What is your major?” and “What do you want to do after college?” I can easily answer that my major is psychology, but then I have to explain that I do not want to be a psychologist or a researcher – the most common careers for a psychology major. In fact, I have a list of things that I do not want to do, but no clue as to what I do want.

I often feel ashamed that I have no answer in regard to what I want to do with my life. I have spent my whole life in school, working as hard as I can, but with no real end goal in sight. Elementary school was preparation for middle school, which was preparation for high school, which was primarily meant to get me to college. Yet now, I am in college, learning about a subject that I find both fascinating and applicable to my life, but I don’t have a concrete next step that I am actively working towards. The next step is a career. A.k.a. a giant question mark. All of my life I was on a linear path with clear goals, but now it feels like I am stumbling about in the dark, enjoying college – the last concrete goal I had – but scared to death of what comes next.

Given that shame and fear tend to be the feelings I associate with questions related to my future, I don’t particularly enjoy explaining my situation to others. However, every now and again, I receive little pieces of wisdom and reassurance from adults who have been in my position of uncertainty, and have come out the other side into a career they love. In the last couple of months, I have received so many pieces of wisdom that I decided to bring them all together here.

The inspiration for this post came from a man named Mark, who works as the Ambassador of Joy at a Kitchen and Bath company called Pirch. I explained to him that while I am passionate about writing and studying psychology, I am lost as to the type of career that I want. He shared with me his story of how he left his job as an investment banker to become a snowboard instructor, and then found his way into a career working to design company culture. As a result, he is now in a job he loves and is passionate about. I was inspired by Mark’s story because he took a bold move to seek joy and passion in his job, rather than settle for a job that was simply well paid. He took a risk in taking time off to have some fun and figure out who he was and what he wanted. And I loved what he had to say to me in regard to my own future.

He told me that you can’t go wrong when you come out of college as long as you go somewhere to develop a skill, find a mentor to learn from, and get pushed out of your comfort zone in some way. He said that it is important to develop your skills and talents because those always stay with you, and learning who you are is vital. He reassured me that it’s okay that my answer to “what do you want to do with your life?” is “I don’t know and I shouldn’t have to.”

Already feeling less ashamed of my question mark future, I received another piece of wisdom from my advisor at school. He reminded me that the reason this whole process of figuring out jobs and a career is so scary is because it is unknown. He said that scary things are scary because we don’t know what to expect. This seems like a fairly obvious thing to say, but to me it was very profound. It was like he was giving me permission to be afraid of the unknown, but also reminding me that it won’t be scary forever.

The final piece of wisdom I received came at the end of last quarter as I was chatting with one of my professors. She told me that she didn’t find her passion until she was thirty, and that it’s okay not to have it all figured out. But then, she reminded me to enjoy the process of figuring it out. She said that reaching goals is often oddly unsettling and unsatisfying; it’s the process of getting there that is truly exciting. She reminded me that once you reach a goal, you are just going to set a new one. She said that goals are good and necessary, but we often forget to enjoy the process of achieving them.

Last quarter, I was discouraged and frustrated with school and with my future. I wanted to fast forward to having everything all figured out. But this quarter, my goal is to take the wisdom others have given me, and apply it to exactly where I am right now. I am going to focus on developing my skills and talents, continuing to figure out who I am and what I love, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I am going to try to be okay with not knowing what to expect in the future, and actually try to be excited about the possibilities rather than fear the uncertainty. And most of all, I am going to try to enjoy the ride. I can wish that I had everything all figured out, but the more I grow up, the more I realize that no one has it all figured out. So instead of wishing I knew what exactly my future holds, I’m going to try to enjoy the process of getting there.

Love is…

Love is all around us. It’s on the radio, on TV, in movies, and in February, it’s in the grocery store in the form of roses and heart shaped chocolate boxes. This time of year, we are made especially aware of love. Valentine’s Day is a holiday devoted to celebrating love, and for me, has always been about recognizing the people I care about the most. Obviously, it is a romantic holiday devoted to boyfriends and girlfriends, and husbands and wives, but until this year, I hadn’t shared Valentine’s with a significant other. Nevertheless, I have always liked Valentine’s Day because, even if I didn’t have a boyfriend to share it with, it was still a great excuse to celebrate all of the other people that I care about.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about what love means. Not just romantic love, but love at it’s core. Parental love, familial love, the love you have for a friend, any and all kinds of love. What I have determined is that, despite there being a variety of different kinds of love, ultimately they all boil down to one very basic idea.

Love is not self-serving.

Instead, love is self-sacrificing. Not self-depricating. Not self-damaging. It doesn’t mean losing your identity, nor does it mean that you let someone walk all over you. Love says “I want the best for you, even if that hurts for me.” It is a parent willing to let their child “leave the nest” to go off to college or move away to start their own life. It is a friend being proud to watch their best friend graduate and start their career, even if it hurts to watch them go. It is being supportive of the person you love no matter what, and wanting only the best for them. It is wishing their happiness, even if it is at your expense.

Love means that you care so much about the person, that their happiness is your happiness, and their pain is your pain. Which is a funny way to describe it, because sometimes, their happiness might also bring you pain. What is best for them may mean that you have to let them go. Or it may not. But regardless, you would want the best for them, even if it hurt for you.

This sounds like a challenge, but when you really love someone, it is just what you do. You don’t have to think about it; it comes naturally. It doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, but it’s not a really conscious decision. I believe that there are a lot of things involved in loving someone, and that there is far more to it than what I have described. But to me, the most powerful thing about love is that it is utterly unselfish. I think that the selfless nature of love is what makes it so unique, and what makes it stand apart as something truly powerful and overwhelming.

Biting the Bullet

This week, I had to tackle an assignment for a course that I have been dreading for two years. It forced me to put my psychology major into practice in a situation that demands a huge amount of sensitivity and responsibility. The assignment was scary because it involved real life variables, not just bubbling in the right answer on a scantron. I had to be ready to think on my toes and respond to real challenges. This particular assignment had been looming over me and stressing me out since the quarter started, and it felt like a weight on my shoulders. I was nervous to complete it, but the task required that I bury my nerves and act as calm and natural as possible.

Since I was feeling more panicky than calm, I needed to find a way to chill out and face my fear with confidence. So before I completed the assignment, I decided to sit down and remind myself of all of the things – particularly recently – that I have done that I never would have dreamed I had the strength to do.

As I made this list, I realized that in the past couple of years, I have overcome – or at least faced – a lot of my biggest fears, and surprised myself by handling them much better than I had anticipated. The list ranges from going to college and moving away from my family, to getting blood tests and going to doctor’s appointments; from learning to trust, to starting an internship. I still find all of the things listed above to be scary, but that fear doesn’t stop me from doing them.

When I was a little kid, I assumed that adults weren’t afraid of things. I thought that because grown ups handled things that seemed scary, they must not be afraid of them. But what I have realized as I have begun to enter the adult world is that you don’t grow out of fear. Things continue to be daunting and scary no matter how old you are. There is no magic age where fear goes away. Maybe the things that you are afraid of change, but fear itself remains. I think the reason that I thought adults must not be afraid of things is that I never saw a grown up throw a tantrum or freak out when they didn’t want to do something; they always seemed so stoic.

When I was little and something scared me, I was the opposite of stoic. I could either run to my mom, crying about it, or stomp my feet and scream “I can’t do it!” As I got older, those strategies stopped being feasible options. Sometimes they’re tempting, but they are obviously not strategies I use anymore. The underlying difference between my behavior then and now is that when I was a kid, I really thought that because I was terrified of something or because I didn’t want to do it, that actually meant that I couldn’t. I firmly believed what I was saying: “I can’t do this.” Now when something scares me, I can hear the child within me chanting “I can’t,” but I also know that I am going to have to find the strength somehow. “I can’t” isn’t really an option. I know I have to bite the bullet and deal with it. There’s a grown up voice that responds to the kid saying “I can’t” with “Well, too bad because you have to.” And somehow, instead of discovering that “I can’t,” overtime I have learned that “I can do this,” whatever “this” may be.

Realizing that I am capable of facing things that terrify me has been one of the most rewarding parts of growing up.

So as I sat there before my assignment, I felt more confident in knowing that – like all the other things I have been afraid to do – I could get through it. It didn’t go perfectly, but it was much better than I had expected. And it gave me one more thing to add to the list of scary things that I have faced head on.

The class for which I had to complete the big, daunting assignment happens to have a focus on “positive psychology,” which focuses on human strengths and resilience. This theory acknowledges that people have fears, pain, and issues, but it emphasizes that we all have within us the strength to get through them. We might need some support, but ultimately we have the ability to overcome these obstacles. And I feel like that is the perfect way to describe what I was feeling as I wrote down all of the fears I have faced in the past few years. I have needed support from people in my life along the way, but ultimately I have discovered that I have the strength in myself to overcome my fears.

Appreciating Right Now

I had heard that it’s difficult to readjust to normal life after studying abroad; that somehow SLO loses some of its magic. I would love to say that’s not true, and that I am completely adjusted and loving being back. But this week, that would have been a lie. This week was the first time since being back that reality hit me, and it hit hard.

It’s only my third week, but since Cal Poly is on the quarter system and there are just ten weeks in a quarter, you hit the ground running and don’t stop until the quarter ends. Midterms have started already, and I got overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of me in the next seven weeks. I am currently in two of the hardest classes in my major, both of which aim to help psychology majors move in the direction of either a researcher or a therapist. Unfortunately, I don’t want to be either of those things. So I was frustrated that I have to put in a huge amount of time and effort to work towards goals that I have no desire to achieve. I wanted to be focusing that energy on working towards a career that I want, not on ones that I know I don’t.

I found myself frustrated by school, in that it feels like this endless cycle of homework, studying, and tests. I felt like a hamster that has been running on the same wheel for nine years, sprinting, but with no purpose or direction.

Most of all, I was frustrated because I missed my time in London. I wanted to rewind time and be back with the person I wish I could spend every second with. It didn’t feel fair that there are currently 3,000 miles between us. I just wanted to find the fastest way to be with him. But I can’t rewind time, and any way I slice it I have a year and a half left of school.

On top of all that, I was exhausted. My eyes were so red in the morning that it looked like I was crying. I was the kind of tired where logic and reason disappear. It was like I had been taken over by a walking zombie.

Now that I have recovered from this week and caught up on sleep, I have returned – at least for the moment – to my rational self. I realized that as much as London was like a perfect dream, and as much as I have dreams for my life after I graduate, I can’t forget to enjoy right now. Time is precious, and I wanted to wish a year and a half of it away.

Having dreams and working towards them is a valuable thing. It gives us drive and motivation to achieve something wonderful. But in the wise words of Dumbledore, “it does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.” I forgot to live and appreciate what is going on in my life right now.

What I realized this weekend is that in many ways my life at the moment is a dream. I have someone that I want to spend every second with, and that just in itself is a dream come true. I also have determined that I have a passion for writing, and that is more direction career-wise than I have had in a long time. I go to an amazing school, and I have the privilege to be in college and learning, which is something a lot of people would give anything for. This week I was impatient and looking to fulfill dreams for the future, but I forgot to live in the dreams that are being fulfilled right now.

“How was London?”

It’s officially been a month since I got home from London. Landing back in San Diego was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever experienced. After being away on a crazy adventure in a foreign country for almost four months, in just eleven hours I was back, and driving out of the San Diego airport. Nothing seemed to have changed at home; everything was pretty much exactly as I left it on August 27th. When I walked off the plane on December 15th, the only thing that had really changed was me.

It is almost impossible for me to explain my experience abroad to anyone that wasn’t there. Coming back home, and now being back up at school, I’ve answered the question “How was London?” more times than I can count. You would think that I would have a good answer to that question by now, but the best I can seem to come up with is, “it was friggin awesome.” Then people usually ask what I did while I was abroad. And I can list off the places I travelled to, and some of the sights I saw, but that all seems insignificant to me. Having been through those four months, I know that every single day was packed with new experiences and adventures. I had this mentality while I was there that I had to make every second count, because I knew I had this insane, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of me. But it wasn’t necessarily the things that I did that mattered. Granted, I am obsessed with London, so almost every outing I had was pretty amazing in my eyes. But when I look back over all of my adventures, the importance lies less in the actual activities, and more in how those excursions slowly changed and shaped me, and in the things I learned along the way.

First of all, there was something about being in a big, vibrant city full of history and culture that was invigorating. I have always enjoyed learning, but I found myself wanting to know things about London. The city wasn’t just a bunch of tourist sites to me; instead, it was my home for the next few months, and it had a lot of stories to tell besides just mine. I wanted to know as many of those stories as possible. There were stories of kings and queens, of artists and architects, of conflicts and wars. There were fake stories, like Harry Potter and Love Actually. And then there was my parents’ story. And the whole time I was there, I was just as excited about exploring history as I was about creating my own new story. Mostly, I was just excited about everything.

Second of all, the fact that I was alone and on my own adventure was incredible. When I left my mom and my sister at the airport in San Diego, I felt a very real sense of being alone. Not lonely, but alone. From that point forward, I got to call the shots. I got to plan out my time, and decide what I wanted to do with my days in London. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself, and that might sound selfish, but there are very few times in life when the only person we have to worry about is ourselves. I found a sense of strength in the amount of independence I had while abroad. Honestly, I was proud of myself, because I remembered how much fear used to run my life. I remembered being seventeen, and petrified of leaving for college and being utterly alone. What I didn’t realize at the time was that just three years later I would find a huge amount of joy in being alone. I learned that there is a big difference between being lonely and alone, and that while being lonely drains me of happiness and strength, my time alone, especially while I was abroad, filled me up with confidence and joy.

When I describe my experience abroad, I usually separate it into two sections. The first half, I felt like I fully embraced being on my own and I was more independent than I have ever been in my life. The second half, while still full of adventures, was more about learning to be dependent and to trust people. I experienced people being good. When you walk around a big city all day, you can see a lot of examples of humanity at its worst. But while I was in London, there were people in my life that showed examples of humanity at its best; people that went out of their way to be supportive and kind in a way that I found very powerful. I found people that I cared about, and learned to trust them. I learned not to fear building meaningful relationships, even though I knew I was only there for a few months. I learned how to open my heart up, and how to fall. I left London with a relationship that has brought more joy and happiness to my life than I could have imagined.

Finally, I learned that nothing is perfect. There are bumps in the road that you can’t see coming. But the bumps that I encountered while I was abroad didn’t take away from my experience. Instead, they made me stronger. I wouldn’t change a second of my time in London, because I found something positive in all of it. I wouldn’t take away the tough days, because I learned how to be okay with feeling the pain or the frustration that those days brought, but also how to let it go and not let those feelings get in the way of enjoying the good things that were all around me.

So I guess it would be more appropriate to say that I found that nothing is perfect in the conventional sense of the word, where nothing difficult happens or where you are blissfully happy all the time. Because to me, my time in London was perfect, even with the little bumps along the way. I wouldn’t change one second of my experience, because ultimately I am a happier and stronger person for all of it.

Another thing that I get asked a lot is what it’s like to be back in SLO. I thought I would have a hard time readjusting, and in some ways I have. I miss London a lot, and the people that I came to care about there. But those people aren’t going anywhere; they are still part of my life. And if I’m lucky enough, I might go back to live in London for a while after I graduate. So for now, I am left with over a thousand photos, a constant stream of vivid memories that play over and over in my mind, a wonderful relationship, and the ways that my time in London made me a stronger, happier person. And that is not something that I am sad about. Instead, I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a fantastic adventure, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures life has just around the corner.

Thoughts for the Week

This week, I had to write my own eulogy for my public speaking class.  Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, and probably the weirdest assignment I’ve had in college.  I am not a fan of public speaking as it is, so giving my own (fake) eulogy combined two of my least favorite things, and the two things people fear more than anything else: public speaking and death.  Perfect.

I really hated this assignment, but after I gave my speech I felt this weird sense of accomplishment.  It’s possible that I was just really relieved to have that damn, anxiety-provoking assignment out of the way.  But I think it was more than that.  Even though I whined a lot about this assignment and didn’t sleep well at all the night before, I think it actually taught me something.

Listening to a bunch of nineteen year olds commemorate their lives as if they were no longer in them was super depressing, but somehow somewhat uplifting too.  Everybody made a point of saying that they didn’t want their life to be mourned, but celebrated.  We were supposed to praise ourselves in this speech, and look at the positive things about our lives.

It made me realize that when people look back at their lives from a eulogy-type standpoint, they don’t focus on the negatives.  They don’t focus on the valleys.  They don’t focus on the crap.

They look at everything that was beautiful about their life.

They look at the core of who they were.  They look at relationships.  Everybody’s speech focused a lot on their relationships with the people they loved the most: their family and friends.

They look at their strengths.  For this speech, we weren’t allowed to talk about our insecurities or out faults.  We had to look at the positive things about ourselves.  It’s somewhat uncomfortable to praise yourself.  It feels very unnatural.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the bad days and the negatives in life.  If that is all you are focusing on, there are lots of things that you can let piss you off and take over.  But when you get down to it, when you have to look back at your life and pretend it’s over, you don’t look at that stuff.  Or if you do, you look at how it made you stronger.

This quarter has had a lot of ups and downs for me, nothing major really to be down about, but sometimes life is just like that.  Up and down.  I’ve been roller coaster riding between really happy and really sad.  And it’s easy to let the downhill spiral farther and farther until I decide to do something to turn it back around.

For example, as I started writing this, I was pretty happy.  And then a few hours later I found myself feeling sad and lonely again.

But then I started writing this post again, feeling fairly hypocritical since I wasn’t exactly in a very positive mood, and I started to realize something.

Instead of looking back at my day and focusing on the times I felt crappy, I should focus on all the good things.  As if I were writing a eulogy for the day.  No focusing on the negatives, just be grateful for and celebrate the positives.

Like I made pancakes at 10 p.m.  Just because I can.

And when I looked out my window this evening, I saw a beautiful sunset behind Bishop’s Peak.

And I learned how to cook chicken without setting off the smoke alarm, overcooking the chicken, or making our entire house smell like a burning KFC.

I know none of that sounds particularly exciting, but there are tons of things in life to be grateful for, from the bigger things like the wonderful people in my life to the little things like pancakes at night.

It shouldn’t take writing a eulogy to focus on the good things in life.

Last year, I had a fantastic English teacher who taught me something really important.  She said that at the end of a paper, you don’t have to try to sound like you have it all figured out.  Because usually you don’t.

I definitely don’t.

But I know that the best way to be happy is be grateful.  So, without pretending that I died, I want to be able to ignore all the crap that is so easy to focus on and celebrate the goodness in life.